Saturday, June 29, 2013

Newlyweds in Italy: Remembering Our First Adventures Together

We were here... a week after our wedding
June 29, 1996.

I am reading the journal of the trip that my bride and I took seventeen years ago. I'm glad that I kept a travel journal; it revives the inner experience of places and times in a way that can only be done by the written word. Or perhaps that's just my personal bias, because I am a writer.

In any case, I think that this year we will review the journal in detail, and hopefully dig up some of the bulky old "photo albums" full of pictures.

As I have said before, Eileen and I are both "Romans" by virtue of the (different) times we each lived and studied there in our youth, and by our great excursion together at the beginning of our married life.

We spent three and a half weeks in Italy for our honeymoon back in 1996. We were able to make this trip because we didn't seek a "lovers' solitude" experience; we spent all but five nights at the homes of friends. It was a real trek, from Rome to Assisi to Florence to Ravenna to Milan to the Italian Riviera. I'm so glad we did it then, when we had the time and the energy of our youth. I'm glad that, while we were still able, we rode trains and buses, slept on floors or (worse) the infamous Italian "letto," and hauled bags that got bigger and bigger as we accumulated loot along the way! I recommend this kind of honeymoon for you young folks, especially if you are humanities buffs like us. Trust me, you will never be able to throw yourselves about with such freedom as in these early days of marriage. Soon come the babies, and then come the bad backs and the arthritis. Youth is the time to explore, to rough it, to have an adventure, especially with your spouse. Go somewhere beautiful and fascinating, full of human history and aesthetic richness. Or go on pilgrimage to the places where God's love has touched the world. You will build a foundation of common experience that will stay with you forever.

In Rome we spent a week and a half at an apartment not far from the Vatican, with a friend's mother. This lovely old woman cleared a room for us, made coffee for us every morning, and often fed us abundantly in the kitchen at night (even if we had already eaten). I have never found a restaurant that can match the culinary magic that happens in the simple Italian kitchen. Oh, my my!

We went to all our favorite spots in Rome and shared them together. We brought our newly married life to the tomb of St. Peter, and prayed a long time. We explored churches and ruins and great art. June 29th sticks in my mind because we went to St. Peter's basilica for the ceremony in which the Pope (then Blessed John Paul II) invests new Archbishops with the pallium, a woolen band worn as a sign of their particular responsibility and their communion with the Pope.

It was a beautiful ceremony, very crowded of course, so that we barely had a glimpse of the Pope. But we were so happy just to share in this beautiful event with him. Afterwards, in the midst of the crowds, we bumped into a little bishop from Malaysia and struck up a conversation with him. He was the first bishop to bless our marriage.

I wonder where he is today. We never did get his name.

Among many things, Rome is also a place of unusual meetings and unexpected changes in plans. It is a place where all the cultures of the world gather, dialogue with one another, and celebrate together the One who brings true unity to the whole human family.

Some wonderful surprises awaited us, as well as one of the singular graces that would shape our whole married and family life. I hope to share some direct excerpts from the travel journal in forthcoming blogs.